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Study of Port: Great Restaurants

May 10, 2013 12 comments

You know, I’m continuing this series about great experiences in Portugal (here are part 1, part 2 and part 3), and there is this annoying little voice inside which says “stop talking about it… Keep it for yourself… Once people will find out, they will all start going there, and all the great and inexpensive food and wine will become expensive and inaccessible… Keep it a secret…”. Never mind, the inner voice lost, and one can’t keep great experiences secrets anyway, so let’s proceed, shall we?

Today I want to present to you three restaurants, all three different, but literally one better than the other.

Let’s start with the place called bbGourmet. Actually, bbGourmet is a group of restaurants, and the specific one we visited is called bbGourmet Bull&Bear. The restaurant has good rating on Trip Advisor, but when I walked by the restaurant, it looked modern and not very inviting from outside, so at first I thought we can skip it. But then people on Trip Advisor probably know a thing or two about food, and the place was relatively close, so why not give it a try, right?

Restaurant indeed looked very modern inside, but with the nice ambiance. The menu had tasting option for €35 for four dishes. For another €15 you could add a wine pairing to all the dishes. Yes, you don’t need any hard guesses – of course this is what we did.

To give you a brief summary: perfect dishes + outstanding wines + very good pairing = great experience. I’m an engineer, remember? Of course it is fun to think in math terms, right? Okay, just ignore. Moving along…

First dish: Scallop with risotto. Perfectly gentle array of flavors, with sweetness of scallop complemented by mild tartness and zest of risotto.

Pairing: 2011 Prova Regia Arinto Vinho Regional Lisboa – 100% Arinto grape, bright acidity, some grapefruit notes, very similar to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – worked perfectly together with the dish.

Second dish: Sea Bass with black quinoa and fennel puree – that puree was particularlyoutstanding, overall an excellent dish

Pairing: 2012 Portal Colheita Branco Douro DOC, a blend of 45% Vinsinho, 20% Moscatel Galego Branco, 20% Malvasia Fino and 15% Rabigato. A bit drier than the previous white, more saddle and herbaceous flavors. Paired very well with the dish.

Third dish: Stuffed calamari. May be the best, definitely one of the best calamari dishes I ever had – perfect texture, perfect balance of flavors with the creamy sauce.

Pairing: 2011 Niepoort Redoma Rosé Douro DOC – a blend of 30%Tinta Amarela, 20%Touriga Franca and 50% others. A bit austere, needed a touch more fruit in my opinion. This was probably least successful pairing.

Fourth dish: Roasted veal. I’m not big on veal in general, but this was perfectly succulent dish. Those “potato chips” you see in the picture? They are not chips at all! They look like chips, but they soft literally like soft taco shells. Delicious!

Pairing: 2010 Portal Colheita Douro DOC Vinho Tinto – a blend of 60% Tinta Roriz, 25% Touriga Nacional, 15% Touriga Franca – very nice overall, good amount of dark fruit, soft and approachable, good oiverall balance.

And then – liquid desert! Secret Spot 40 years old Moscatel do Douro – I would guess, this is how winemakers play in Portugal – while they make the port all the time, every once in a while they make something for themselves – that is possibly the story behind this Moscatel (well, you will have hard time proving me wrong…). The wine was heavenly, with enough acidity to prevent it from becoming a syrup, and lots of complexity which can be rather expected considering the age. That was a perfect finish for a great meal.

40 years old Moscatel

40 years old Moscatel

The next restaurant was called ShiS (at the time of writing, the #21 out of 376 on the TripAdvisor’s list of restaurants in Porto). The first thing to mention about this restaurant is its location. It is located right by the wall which protects Douro river from the ocean, and the views are just exceptional. Before we talk about food and wine, here are couple of pictures I managed to snap right by the restaurant:

DSC_0924 view from ShiS

DSC_0981 sunset

ShiS offers lots of choices of sushi and sashimi. This was our dinner in the making:

DSC_0001 Sushi

And this was my dish (chef’s selection sushi and sashimi combination):

DSC_0057 Sushi Plate

Here is also a sea bass dish:

DSC_0055 Sea Bass

We had few of the very good wines. For the white we had 2012 Quinta do Crasto Douro Branco (a blend of Gouveio, Roupeiro and Rabigato) – somewhat on a fruity side, but overall dry, with good acidity and good balance. Quinta do Crasto produces some of the best wines in Portugal, especially when it comes to red, and these wines should be available in US.

DSC_0960 Quinta do Crasto White

The red wine was 2010 Quinta do Vale do Meandro Meão Meandro Douro DOC, a blend of 45% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 13% Tinta Roriz, 5% Sousão, 4% Tinta Barroca, and 3% Tinto Cão. Good dark fruit on the nose and on the palate, soft tannins, overall well balanced. It should be available in US and worth seeking.

DSC_0964 Meandro douro

Dessert – Crème brûlée with chocolate sauce and of course, Port! Taylor’s 20 years old Tawny was very good, with dried fruit and nutty notes, quite light and balanced (we finished the only two bottles the restaurant had, unfortunately).

DSC_0067 Dessert

Crème brûlée with chocolate sauce

DSC_0101 20 Years Old Taylor

20 years old tawny – always appropriate

By the way, the wine list at ShiS has one interesting detail – it lists ABV for all the wines – I think this is pretty neat and I would be glad to see that in restaurants in the US:

DSC_0061 wine list

Wine list at ShiS – note ABV ratings for all the wines

Click to add a blog post for Shis on Zomato

And now last, but not the least experience I want to share with you – Cometa Restaurante.

DSC_0400 Cometa Restaurant

At the moment of this writing, it is #16 out of 376 on the Trip Advisor restaurant list in Porto. Very small restaurant, may be 8 or 10 tables, located on a top of a very long and steep set of stairs leading to the river. We had a very interesting experience at the restaurant with the set of small setbacks getting in the way, but not preventing us from having a great time overall.

The first issue was with wine – the restaurant had pretty small wine list, and even out of that small wine list, our first and then next choice were not available. Finally we settled on the white wine which restaurant had available. Then food became an issue too – most of us quickly set our minds on having a grilled squid – and it appeared that the restaurant only had one portion available for the five of us, so we had to come up with the other choices. The menu also had roasted chestnut soup with pomegranate seeds – but in reality, it was not available (sigh).

As the bottle of wine finally arrived at the table, things started to turn for the better (wine can fix all the problems in the world, right?). Then some appetizers arrived, and it was time to get another bottle of wine – only the same wine was not available anymore. Truth to be told, it was unfortunate that restaurant didn’t get the delivery of the wines they were supposed to get, so that was the reason for the shortcomings with the inventory. Okay, we went through the exercise of selecting the bottle of wine again, I would say, quite successfully – we picked 2010 Herdade Dos Grous Branco Vinho Regional Alentejano, a blend of  Antão Vaz,  Arinto and Roupeiro (typical for Alntejano white wines) – a medium to full bodied white, with good amount of white stone fruit, very round, good acidity and good finish.

DSC_0406 Grous white wine

Herdade dos Grous branco

Next – our entrees arrived. I ordered the dish called “Portuguese sausage”, which was effectively a collection of poultry pieces, served with the sweet sauce. By the way, take a look at the china – I love those plates… Real food served on real plates – wow, what a concept! But it feels so unique nowadays, when even in the best restaurant you might get paper napkins instead of a real cloth… This Portuguese sausage was delicious – I’m not sure if it was a duck egg or not on top of it, but the whole dish tasted perfectly.

DSC_0404 Portugese sausage

Considering all the troubles we had with our food and wine selection, the restaurant decided to compensate for that a little bit, and offered us complementary bottle of Sparkling wine, which didn’t encounter much enthusiasm on our side, as we were mostly done with the food. Seeing our reaction, we were offered a bottle of 2011 Niepoort Tiara Douro Branco (at €34, it is one of the most expensive wines on the list) – and all of a sudden, all our troubles seemed well worth having.

DSC_0409 Tiara White

2011 Niepoort Tiara Douro Branco

This wine is a blend of Codega, Rabigato, Donzelinho, Boal, Cercial and other grapes. Bright and full bodied, excellent acidity, very uplifting. This wine has great textural presence, you really feel it in you your mouth, you can roll it around – but it is so balanced, the fruit, the acidity, the whole package is perfectly together. Reminds me of the great Pigato wines I experienced at the Gambero Rosso event. One of the very best white wines I ever had (yeah, my list of “very best” might be a bit too long…).

And then the dinner conclusion with dessert – I’m clearly abusing the “very best” here, but this was one of the very best apple desserts I ever had – apple tart with the scoop of ice cream:

DSC_0410 Apple tart

Apple tart

The apples were not visible, but very noticeable – big, juicy apples which say “bite me”. If you like apples – this was an outstanding dessert.

One parting note regarding Cometa Restaurante – the restaurant doesn’t accept international credit cards, so you should have cash on hand with you (well, there is an ATM near by, but it is always unpleasant when you can’t pay for your meal on the spot). By the way, care to guess how much this dinner cost us? We can skip the drum roll, but – it was only €35 per person!

And we are finally done! Every time I promise to myself  to write short little posts, easy going for quick consumption – and I still end up with multi-page monstrosities with tons of pictures. Well, I hope I conveyed my main message – there are many great restaurants in Porto and I’m sure in the Portugal overall and they are still reasonably priced, so if you are thinking about going to Europe… No, I’m not encouraging you. Cheers!

Study of Port: Food and Wine Tidbits

May 5, 2013 24 comments

Here I’m, continuing to report on my food and wine adventures in Portugal (here are the first and second posts from the series). Well, I guess “adventures” is really too much of a word for simply excellent food and wine experiences, but “adventures” put the things in the right prospective, isn’t it? Never mind, let’s just talk about food and wine.

On the first night we ended up at the small place called Restaurante Nova Europa. The place looked very authentic in the sense that they had a hard time to find an English menu, and our server spoke practically no English –  that didn’t prevent us from having a very good dinner. Most of the people at the table ordered some version of the local fish called Bacalhau, which is a cod. It was offered in different variations – mine had a lot of potatoes:

Bacalhau

Bacalhau

And as I often ignore food and wine pairing rules, the wine was red:

DSC_0724 Evel Tinto Douro

2010 Evel Tinto Douro

As most of the wines from Douro, this 2010 Evel Tinto Douro, this wine is made from the “classic set” of Portuguese grapes – Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz a Tinta Barroca. The same grapes are also used as a foundation for most of the Port wines, which are made in exact same Douro region. Good body, good depth, not necessarily spectacular but easy to drink and pleasant.

Now I would like to mention two of the very local products. First one is beer. I’m not sure how many different beers are produced in Portugal (I’m positive though that US microbrewery revolution didn’t take any roots in Portugal so far). The beer is called Super Bock, it comes in lager, stout and few other versions, and it is produced in the area just outside of Porto – according to Wikipedia. I only tried the stout, which was dark, rich, smooth and creamy. I have to mention though that it is somewhat dangerous to rely on my opinion about beer – for the most of the time I prefer dark beer and on contrary to many of my friends, I don’t find Guinness bitter. And here is the picture for you – the picture was taken by my friend Kfir, not by me – but he was using my camera, so I guess I have some rights to it…

Super Bock stout

Super Bock stout, as captured by Kfir

Next item to bring to your attention is a local sandwich (supposedly it is Porto’s specialty) called Francesinha. This sandwich is made out of two slices of crust-less bread with various meats (or even veggies) in between – we saw it on the menu in most of the restaurants in Porto, and it can come with steak, white meat, various ham cuts and so on. The sandwich is completely covered by melted cheese (top and all sides), and it is served with the secret sauce which is supposed to be some combination of tomato sauce and beer. I had a steak version and it was very tasty. Believe it or not, but I’m not always carrying my camera to the restaurant, so Francesinha is probably the only dish I regret not taking my picture of – but someone thankfully did on Wikipedia, so below is the picture for you, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Francesinha sandwich, picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Francesinha sandwich, picture courtesy of Wikipedia

And then there was Cufra. Pardon my little drama here, and let me explain. We saw the restaurant while walking by, checked it out on the web, and it looked appealing enough. Service staff spoke not too much of English, but the menu was possible to understand, so we all ended up with decent food – but the wine was more memorable. For the white we had 2011 Castello D’Alba from Douro, a blend of Codega do Larinho, Rabigato and Viosinho – very typical blend for Douro white wine, all indigenous grapes (Wine Centurions, take note!). The wine was very nice, with good acidity and somewhat similar to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, only with less of grapefruit.

Castello D'Alba Douro White

Castello D’Alba Douro White

Then we had a bootle of 2009 Quinta do Cardo Selecção do Enólogo Beiras DOC, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca, produced by Quinta do Cardo. The wine was nothing short of being spectacular  – with the exception of vintage port, during the whole week I only had one other red wine which was on the same level or may be even a touch higher – but I will talk about it in another post. Dense and concentrated, with dark fruit, plums and blueberries on the palate, all very round with the hint of smokiness. The wine was so good for the money (€14, in a restaurant!) that I even got two bottles right in the restaurant to take them back home.

Quinta do Cardo Selecção do Enólogo

Quinta do Cardo Selecção do Enólogo

When we went to the same restaurant second time, about a week later, the menu was quite different, and the wine were too. But – one of the reasons for the second visit was the desire to try the crab dish we saw someone ordering during the first time. Considering that Porto is located right on the cross of ocean and the Douro river, it is rather expected that fish and seafood should be very good – and this dish didn’t disappoint (hope you will find the below picture being enough of the proof):

Crab and shrimp at Cufra

Crab and shrimp at Cufra

I can’t say the same about wines – there was different 2009 Quinta do Cardo wine on the list (about €4 cheaper), and while it was not bad, it was not anywhere as good as the first one. All in all, if you are in Porto and if you will be in the area, Cufra is well worth visiting.

Last place I want to mention (but not least by all means) is a restaurant called Rabelos. Just to give you some prospective, Rabelos are actually flat bottom boats which were used to transport barrels of Port from the wineries to the Port house cellars for aging. Nowadays the wine is transported by the tanker trucks, and Rabelos are only used to move tourists around.

Rabelos Restaurante

Rabelos Restaurante

Anyway, the restaurant is actually located in Vila Nova de Gaia, a town which houses all the port cellars across the river from Porto. It is located very close to the bridge which connects Porto and Gaia, right along the boardwalk in a place which in general should be considered a tourist trap. But it was no tourist trap at all. The service was outstanding, and we got great recommendations and had great experience overall.

One of the starters was local feta cheese, dusted with Parmesan and slightly roasted with olive oil (take a note – I think it should be as easy to make it at home as it is delicious, and as a very least I’m going to try it…).

Roasted feta cheese with parmesan

Roasted feta cheese with parmesan

Then we had beef carpaccio and shrimp salad – the pictures don’t do justice to those dishes, but both were delicious

beef carpaccio

beef carpaccio

shrimp salad

shrimp salad

Next we had two dishes made from Bacalhau in different styles – one was baked with cheese sauce and one was grilled – both were outstanding:

Bacalhau in cheese sauce

Bacalhau in cheese sauce

grilled bacalhau with shrimp

grilled bacalhau with shrimp

Again ignoring the pairing rules, we went with the red wine called 2010 Borges Quinta da Soalheira Douro Red, a blend of classic Douro red grapes, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Tinto Cão, made by Vinhos Borges. The wine had medium body, good acidity, nice red fruit on the palate, well balanced – perfect for every day drinking, considering you can find it.

Borges Quinta da Soalheira

Borges Quinta da Soalheira

For the desert, we had lemon cake (paired with white Port) and chocolate cake paired with simple tawny. Below are a few pictures – the first one is taken by me ( boring, sigh), and then two others taken by Kfir – I will need to learn how to really use my own camera…

Lemon cake, no excitement in the picture

Lemon cake, no excitement in the picture

lemon cake, now with excitement, courtesy of Kfir

lemon cake, now with excitement, courtesy of Kfir

extreme chocolate cake, as captured by Kfir

extreme chocolate cake, as captured by Kfir

And of course nobody can leave the restaurant without coffee, right?

Espresso!

Espresso!

That’s all, we are done for today folks. Sorry for all the pictures, hope you found them at least moderately entertaining. Until the next time – cheers!

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Study of Port: First Port Experiences

April 29, 2013 20 comments

I’m continuing my notes from Portugal (you can find previous post here). On Sunday we had some free time to walk around the town, so I have more pictures and some actual port tasting notes for you.

Let’s start with the pictures. We walked past beautiful cemetery (is it appropriate to use the word “beautiful” in conjunction with cemetery? not sure, but still). As my friend P likes to say – “lines!”:

DSC_0739 cemetery fence

Lines!

more lines!

more lines!

Isn’t this pretty?

DSC_0749 beautiful view

Someone has good sense of humor:

DSC_0746 stop sign

stop sign being carried away…

One of the modes of transportation in Porto:

DSC_0769 one of the transport types in Porto

Just look at this beautiful town:

DSC_0796 Porto!

Porto

DSC_0792 Douro River

Port, I’m coming:

DSC_0788 Port houses ahead!

So we finally made it across the river (technically, all the port houses are located across the river from Porto in the town called Gaia). We made our first stop at Quinta do Noval. Quinta do Noval has all the operations in Douro valley, and only a small store in Porto, where you can taste limited number of their Ports. All the ports you can taste are packaged in the form of a single-pour tiny bottles, so as the result you can’t try any of their vintage ports, as those can’t be put in the small bottles. Let me explain.

There are many different types and styles of port, but at this point we only want to distinguish between vintage and non-vintage ports. To begin with, all the ports are made in the same way as any wine – the grapes are harvested, crushed and fermented until desired level of sweetness is achieved. From here on, Port making deviates from the regular wine making process – fermentation now is stopped with addition of very young brandy (neutral grape spirit), and then Port wine goes for aging in the barrels or vats, depending on what kind of port is in the making. Here the distinction will be also made between Vintage and non-vintage ports. If quality of the wine is outstanding, the Port house might declare a vintage year, and then the port will age in the oak cask only for 2 years, and then continue aging in the bottle. Otherwise, the port wine can age anywhere from 5 to a 100 years in the barrels, and it will produce ports with the age ( but not vintage) designation on them.

The key difference (important for us, consumers) between vintage and non-vintage port is that non-vintage port can be kept for extended amount of time after the bottle is open, while vintage port should be consumed within a day or two, same as any other wine. This is also the reason for Vintage port (which is typically very expensive) not being available for the tasting in the tiny bottles.

Okay, going back to our tasting – so we decided to try the 40 years Tawny port from Quinta de Noval:

DSC_0803 40 years old tawny quinto do noval

It was good and very complex, with lots of almond variations on the palate, dried fruit and pronounced acidity, which was taming the sweetness. It was good but not amazing (I would be disappointed if I would pay a full price for an actual bottle of it).

barrel table and stools at Quinta de Noval

barrel table and stools at Quinta de Noval

Next we stopped at Sandeman:

DSC_0806 Sandeman!

In most of the port houses you can go for the tour and then do the tasting – we decided to skip the tour and just do the tasting.

For the first time I tried White Port – and it was outstanding!

DSC_0807 white and tawny ports

DSC_0810 sandeman port bottles

Sandeman Apitiv White Porto was aged for 3 years in the vat. It had golden color, good amount of sweetness ( but not cloying by all means), lots of white fruit, particularly white plums on the palate, good acidity. It was bright and uplifting, very refreshing wine overall.

Sandeman Imperial Reserve Porto ( 8 years of aging in the barrel) had sweetness perfectly supported by the structure underneath – dark fruit, good body, good acidity – overall, probably one of the best ports I ever had.

That’s all I have for you for now – in the next post we will talk about food experiences in Porto. Cheers!

Study of Port: Prologue

April 27, 2013 17 comments

I have to break the tradition today – there will be no wine quiz for you to solve. Instead, I’m going to share the experience with you.

As you know, my day time work had nothing to do with wine. But – because of that work, I’m spending this week, in Portugal – hence the title of this blog post. I’m not just in Portugal, I’m actually in the city called Porto – and this is where the Port was born. Over the next few days, I plan to learn as much as I can about Port – and share that with you. But, considering that I’m still jet-lagged, there is not much I can share at the moment – besides a few pictures. Rest assured – more pictures and notes are coming soon!

I have no idea what house is this, but I like it

I have no idea what house is this, but I like it

 

Love the combination of old and new - only in Europe...

Love the combination of old and new – only in Europe…

 

I'm sure you knew that I will not leave you without flowers

I’m sure you knew that I will not leave you without flowers

 

and more flowers

and more flowers

 

DSC_0706 flowers 2

and more flowers…

 

When was the last time you saw $2/bottle wines?

When was the last time you saw $2/bottle wines?

 

Actually, a lot of very inexpensive wine

Actually, a lot of very inexpensive wine

 

yes, I'm a sucker for the red roofs... Never can get enough of them...

yes, I’m a sucker for the red roofs… Never can get enough of them…

 

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. Don’t worry – the wine quizzes will be back, just after we will talk a bit about Port. Cheers!

 

 

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